Spoiler alert: Everything you have heard about "Hamilton" is true. The musical is ambitious, groundbreaking, hilarious, poignant and overwhelming. My experience of watching it felt more like a rock gig with screaming fans practically swooning in happiness. Many theater critics have written eloquent assessments of this musical and its talented creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. The mainstream media is having a field day as well. In the past six weeks, "Hamilton" has visited the White House, won a Pulitzer Prize, and has influenced the U.S. Treasury about replacing or retaining particular historical figures on our bills (Harriet Tubman! George Washington!), in addition to contributing to important conversations about race and history. "Hamilton" is a cultural and artistic powerhouse.
However, one aspect of "Hamilton" has been considerably less explored — its marketing prowess. In my experience as both a playwright and a brand strategist, I have come across many extremely valuable and entertaining pieces of content, and very few that have taken full advantage of new technologies and behaviors as well as "Hamilton." This musical has created a strong online presence, and it has moved from simply advertising its show to truly building an identity and indeed a brand.
Here are five ways that "Hamilton" is winning the marketing game:
Keeping social media personal and varied Miranda is busier than most, but he finds the time to interact up to 20 times a day on Twitter on a variety of topics. This makes "the Hamilton effect" more personal. At a time when Broadway leans on star power to attract audiences, this down-to-earth, approachable presence in social media stands out. An interesting comparison is the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell musical, "Bright Star," which has a decent social presence. Steve Martin does tweet a lot about the show, but that’s the problem — it is only about the show and becomes wallpaper quickly.
Turning a hygiene factor into an event The ticket lottery provides an opportunity for people to see shows at a lower cost. However, given the volume of people vying for a seat for "Hamilton," odds are often stacked against you. The show has turned the potential disappointment of the lottery into a mini-event called "Ham4Ham." Hundreds of hopeful fans are treated to sidewalk performances by the cast, snapping and tweeting through the whole journey. The recent move of "Ham4Ham" online enables people who can’t make it in person to be part of it.
Category presence and generosity Despite their enormous success, we often see "Hamilton" cast members attending and promoting other shows. These interactions contribute to building the "Hamilton" brand as a generous supporter of the theater community. While performers from other productions may mention a favorite show or two in their social media, it does seem that the "Hamilton" cast makes an effort to share its enjoyment more organically.
Cultural mashup "The Hamilton Mixtape" is an album of songs about the Founding Father’s life as imagined by a range of musicians. Miranda has co-produced the album with Questlove, who brings his own community and celebrity presence. "Mixtape" is a brilliant artistic endeavor that packages up the essence of the show, its music, for people across the country.
Reacting in real time "Hamilton" is at a point in its trajectory that it could probably just "press play" and people would still pass out from sheer delight, but the show’s cast members make a point of sharing their journey and reacting to cultural events. For example, when Jonathan Groff (King George) was leaving the show, and a new King came on board (Rory O’Malley), they held a coronation and shared pictures on their social channels. When fans were celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Rent," they sang "Seasons of Love" in the same style as the original "Rent" cast to conclude a show.
The beauty of all this activity is that while it keeps the show top of mind, it doesn’t feel like marketing. It feels like a group of artists sharing what they love to do, and generously rewarding all their fans, not just ticket holders. This natural, authentic and deeply creative approach has eluded brands with considerably bigger marketing budgets. We should all be watching this remarkable brand grow and thrive, and apply lessons in creativity and impact in our own marketing efforts.
Dipti Bramhandkar is Head of Planning at iris New York.